Wednesday, January 27, 2010

D.A. Carson on NT Theology

It's been nearly 15 years since D.A. Carson published his article, "‘Contemporary Issues in Biblical Theology: A New Testament Perspective, BBR 5 (1995): 17-41, which is one of the best intro's to biblical and NT theology around. In a recent review of Udo Schnelle's Theology of the New Testament, Carson concludes his assessment of the work with these remarks:

Any NTT, let alone a NTT that will allow itself, whether on canonical or other grounds, to be part of a broader biblical theology, would be greatly enriched by close exegetical examination of how the different corpora of the NT cite and allude to the OT. The NT writers variously insist that Jesus’ body is the temple of God, that he is the lamb of God, the good shepherd, the true vine, the passover sacrificed for us, that he is the ultimate David, the ultimate (Melchizedekian) priest, that the church is the royal priesthood, that Jesus in some way recapitulates Israel’s history, that the exodus is in some ways paradigmatic, and so on and so on. What were their warrants for making these connections? Of course, one might side with Barnabas Lindars and conclude that this is nothing but irresponsible proof-texting that cannot and should not be replicated in Christian exegesis of the OT today. Yet I have come to the conclusion that many of the warrants taught or presupposed in the pages of the NT are subtle, careful, thoughtful, and in some cases distinguishable from Jewish appropriation techniques (e.g., the middoth of Hillel). One must ask what hermeneutical changes took place in Paul’s mind between the time he went to Damascus and when he returned—not just what theological conclusions changed in his mind (for they are largely obvious), but what hermeneutical approaches shifted in his thinking that enabled him to warrant, in his own biblical exegesis, his newfound Christian convictions, while he appealed to the same (OT) biblical texts he had appealed to before his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. For instance, while the pre-conversion Paul would have elevated the Torah to the point of hermeneutical control in his reading of Tanakh, the Christian Paul displays deep interest in what might be called the salvation-historical sequence of events in the Old Testament (see, for instance, his arguments in Rom 4 and Gal 3). That salvation-historical interest is duplicated in Hebrews (Heb 3:7-4:13; 7:1-25) and elsewhere. New Testament writers point out in the strongest terms that these distinctions are there in the OT text. They do not think they are imposing extraneous or anachronistic material onto the text. Out of such observation and reflection springs the possibility of “eine ganz biblische Theologie [‘a truly biblical theology,’ ‘a whole-Bible biblical theology’].” Professor Schnelle’s inability to find Jesus in the OT was not shared by the NT writers whose theology he is trying to write up. Unpacking that line of thought is, of course, beyond the scope of these few reflections. And in any case it is far better to end by expressing my thanks to Professor Schnelle for his extraordinary achievement.

8 comments:

Marty Foord said...

Great quote Mike! Thanks.

MrErr said...

Isn't it true that the issue that got a lot of theologians up in arms about the original New Perspective authors is their claim that Paul re-interpreted the OT? Now Carson is saying the same thing. I guess it takes a generation for people to catch on!

Paul said...

MrErr...I could not help but wonder the same when reading through the quote. Hum.....

Andrew Cowan said...

Mr. Err and Paul,

I'm not sure that you are reading this situation quite right. I don't think that the claim that Paul interpreted the OT differently after his Damascus Road experience is in any way controversial or peculiar to the NPP. The question Carson is getting at is whether what Paul claimed to find in the OT was really there, or whether he invented it through some peculiar hermeneutical process. According to Carson, Paul found what was really there, only it was there in a way that could not be seen before God's public action in Christ; it was hidden in a mystery, waiting to be revealed (cf. Rom 16:25-27). The essay on this topic by Carson in the second volume of Justification and Variegated Nomism is very instructive, and there he interacts specifically with the NPP proponents whom you probably had in mind in your comments and distinguishes his view from theirs. I found it immensely helpful.

pennoyer said...

Following the challenge of determining the new way the post-conversion Paul read the text of the Old Testament, comes perhaps a greater challenge: To what extent are we, as Christian theologians, authorized before God to do the same thing? In this situation the standard exegetical controls (starting with the intentionality of the original author) appear to be lacking. It would seem to open the doors not only to the discerning reader or theologian, but to every pastor with a penchant for speculation. Who has not heard a sermon detailing the "Christian" meaning of every piece of furniture in the Tabernacle? One solution I am partial to is that it was legitimate for inspired writers to make these connections, but we regular folks have been given the gift of exegesis.

- Ray

MrErr said...

@Andrew I do agree somewhat with Carson's viewpoint, all i am saying is that this not the reaction that the original NPP scholars had received.

Overall i would agree that there had to be some changing of the Jewish view of scriptures to accept Christ. Jesus Himself had to explain to the two people on the road to Emmaus how He fulfilled scripture. I think the bigger problem was not this "re-interpretation" but that we have been misreading Paul. The influential authors who have helped me see that have been NT Wright and RB Hays. If we read Paul properly, we will realize that there was not some massive re-interpretation going on.

Jeremy said...

Carson's article is a very good, but unintended, response to some of Peter Enns' work on how the NT authors interpreted the OT.

Andrew Cowan said...

For anyone who might be interested, the 1995 article on biblical and NT theology mentioned in the original post is available at http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/1995_current_issues_in_BT_reformatted.pdf